Tahini & Lemon Lentils

Lately, my dinners haven’t really been dinners.

They’ve more been…plates of stuff. Piles of fresh veggies and a few olives, a slice of tasty bread, some shape of cheese (because, as life teaches us, the shape of a serving of cheese depends on its variety, with some best as squares, others as wedges and even others as rounds). Anyway, the general idea is that I’ve stopped cooking standalone dishes 

ingredients-text.jpgI’d guess it’s common, this tendency to eat less elaborately in the spring and summer. Maybe it’s because the produce on offer is fresher and so doesn’t need as much help, or that it’s too warm to cook anything ambitious. Or maybe it’s the romance of feeling slightly Mediterranean even if you’re eating over your computer, or because there are simply better things to do when it’s warm and sunny into the night…like write stories about how there are better things to do when it’s warm and sunny into the night, while eating over your computer. Which is probably what you did last night too, right? 

Whatever the reason, or more probably reasons, it’s easy and kind of fun, and I suspect your doctor would be on board with it so long as you don’t fill your plate with cheese. So, if you haven’t already, you should give it a shot.   

lentil-pair.jpgNow, because I don’t eat meat, I feel irresponsible and tired if my only protein comes in the form of cheese. And so every now and then, I make a big pot of these lentils to add to my plate of stuff.

I know this might seem contrary to the idea of not cooking, but these lentils are so straightforward and minimally effortful that I don’t think they quite count. They’re also pretty uniform in taste, which is something I think people don’t strive for when making a standalone dish, but do strive for when they’re making something that’s meant to be eaten mezze-style.

The recipe isn’t the sort that needs to be followed closely, so feel free to swap butter for oil, monkey with the spices, add more or less tahini or lemon, and so on, tasting as you go to get a sense of what you think it needs. Then add a few simple sides and relish in its simplicity while sitting in the evening sun, far far away from your computer. 

Green Lentils with Tahini & Lemon
Serves 4-6 as a generous side
Adapted loosely from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Crushed Puy Lentils with Tahini and Cumin

Notes: In the photo, you’ll see I topped my lentils with sliced onion. While this looks nice, it’s a pain to try to eat, so I’d recommend topping yours with diced onion instead. 


2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced (a few tablespoons reserved for serving)
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 cups French green lentils (lentilles du Puy), sorted* and rinsed
3-4.5 cups of water
1 tsp sea salt (slightly less if using table salt)
3 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
3 tbsp lemon juice
For serving: Extra virgin olive oil, black pepper, fresh cilantro, diced onion
Optional extras: Pickled veggies, plain yogurt, soft cheese, fresh tomato, pita, bread, etc.


1. In a large saucepan, heat your 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat until the oil is hot but not smoking. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant but not brown, about 3 minutes more.

3. Add the cumin and black pepper, stir, and cook for 30 seconds.

Step 1.jpg4. Add the lentils, 3 cups of water and salt, and bring to a boil over high heat.

5. Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 30-40 minutes, until tender. Check the lentils every 10 minutes or so, giving them a stir and seeing if they need more water. If they start to look dry, add more water, a half a cup at a time. You want enough water in the pot so that they can steam, but not so much that they end up being soupy. Towards the 30 minute mark, start testing the lentils (by eating a few) to see if they’re done. They should be tender, but still hold their shape. 

6. Once the lentils are cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the tahini and lemon juice. Taste and add more tahini, lemon, salt and pepper as you see fit.

7. Serve your lentils hot or at room temperature. Top each serving with 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, an extra sprinkle of black pepper, and a healthy dose of diced onion and cilantro.  

Step 2.jpg*You’ll often find with lentils that little bits of things that aren’t lentils make it into the mix – the occasional grain of rice or small pebble (really!). I spread my lentils out on a plate before to check for this stuff, but you could easily do it in a sieve right before you give them a rinse.  

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